Submissions Burnout is Real
I’ll admit, your honour: this is a mildly click-baity headline. And it sounds like I’m about to go all Meh on the art of submitting your work for publication, so I’ll stop you before your porcupine spines start to lift- I’m not about to do that. Stand down, Buster, stand down. Writers get published by sending their stuff off to people who print things and that is how we get paid, everyone knows that. I have no interest in dragging the time-honoured tradition of submitting your words (and soul) for judgement in exchange for recompense, for upon this principle is the entire foundation of human existence: something for something.
What I am going to write about is what I called Submission Burn Out, and how to avoid it. And to be honest, it’s not going to take a rocket scientist to figure out that if something is making you tired, the quickest way to solve that singular problem is to take a rest, but this would be a shit blog post if the entirety of it was me essentially saying STOP DOING THAT THING THAT MAKES YOU TIRED FOR A HOT MINUTE AND HAVE A CUP OF TEA/A PROTRACTED WANK/GO FOR A RUN/EAT A BISCUIT/TAKE A NAP/PLAY MINECRAFT etcetera etcetera. I’m not going to do that (well I am, actually, but I’m going to attempt to make it a slightly more in-depth argument in order to make the medicine slide down more sweetly).
Let’s backtrack first, before I drop any slippery pearls of ‘wisdom’ on you, and define what I mean by submissions.
If you’re a writer, whether you’re just starting out, a little more established, or a regular Dan Brown (insert inscrutable face emoji), you want to get eyes on your work. Of course you do! Well, not all of us, some of us write solely for ourselves with no intention of sharing it publicly, and I often wish I was one of those people, but if I were I wouldn’t be here today with so many awesome writerly friends and cool things up ahead so let’s park that sentiment for a moment. The point is, if you write, you want it to be read, and one sure-fire way of making sure your stories/poems/essays etc get read is to send them off for consideration. Most commonly, especially in the indie horror scene at the moment, this could be responding to a Call For Submissions (capitilised for no good reason but this is my blog so fuck it). These calls come out regularly, almost weekly it seems, by many incredibly cool indie publishers looking to put together anthologies, often with a discernible theme, or magazines, blog posts and so on. The call comes out, sometimes there is a cool cover attached to the project (I have provided art to some wicked anthos of late and feel privileged to have done so), and hurrah! The game is on. Writers across the indie scene scramble to get something ready in time for the deadline, making sure (please, for the love of god, make sure), that they FOLLOW THE SUBMISSION GUIDELINES carefully, putting together a piece of work, then submitting it.
And in doing so, jumping onto what I like to call the Submissions Carousel, which can prove an incredibly tricky thing to climb down from, because the darn thing never seems to stop. By this I mean, you’ll submit one story, settle down for the agonising wait and eventual rejection/acceptance, ride through the various accompanying emotions, start to regulate, and then what do you know?
THERE’S ANOTHER CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS from another publication putting together something cool, and NAGDAMIT, the theme for this one is Killer Hedgehogs From Outer Space Oh And They Like Anarcho Punk Music Too And Only Speak in Iambic Pentameter and before you know it, you’re off again! The Carousel spins, you’ve got a month to write a six thousand word masterpiece, and so the cycle moves on.
Now, this sounds like I’m taking the piss out of Anthologies and writers submitting stories to them. It’s really important that you all know that I AM NOT DOING THIS. Indie publishers often rely heavily on open submission calls, and rightly so- they are an essential part of making sure that new writers can be found and have a voice, not to mention what open subs do for diversity and inclusion in an industry where, let’s face it, a lot of people just ask their mates to sub them a story and bob’s your uncle, here’s another antho with the same ol’ same ol. And because the world is an ever changing, wonderful place, books should reflect that as far as humanly possible (without lazily sliding into tokenism, because those that do can easily be spotted a country mile away). We need new voices, new stories, new perspectives, new talents. Submissions are a key part of keeping things fresh, and it’s not uncommon to see publishers taking a hybrid approach too, with an invitation only list combined with an open call. So yes, to clarify, I think this is all brilliant and good, and the sheer wealth of publishers, anthologies and open calls to provide material for such is an indication of how busy and vibrant the indie horror scene is at the moment, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Shucks, I put together an antho myself with two very talented ladies, and I have no ragretz whatsoever.
What I am trying to say, in a big-sisterly sort of way, I suppose, is this:
There are A LOT of amazing projects out there to submit your stuff to.
There are likely to continue to be an awful lot of amazing projects for the foreseeable future.
You don’t have to submit to each and everyone.
But of course, you’re thinking. I’m not an idiot.
But then: Oh, shit, what’s this? My favourite publisher has just announced a call for submissions? Oh god, it’s looking for Slasher Fic revolving around Used Teabags? Holy Shit, that’s my favourite thing ever!!
And just like that, you didn’t get off the Carousel. You stayed, mesmerised by the tinkly music and the weird grimacing wooden horses that jerk up and down on their candy-striped poles and the strange mirrors and little globby lights and the smell of candy-floss and
*slaps self hard, across the face*
Ugh, where was I? Sorry about that.
Yeah, so. What I’m saying is that Submissions Burnout is a real and very tangible thing. See call, get excited, write story, submit, wait, rejoice or feel rejected, repeat cycle. It’s tiring. And while on the one hand, rejection is an essential and extremely necessary (not to mention healthy) part of the writing game, too much of it in a short space of time can really, really damage your mojo. Because often, rejections don’t come with constructive feedback (although there is an increasing trend in personalised rejections that I approve of). And honestly, with an anthology in particular, there are so many factors at play: available space, word count, other writers already on the TOC, theme, tone, and so on. By this I mean, your story could be incredible, it could be the best story about Killer Cheeses From Missouri ever written, but if the brief calls for Killer Cheese From Illinois, then it won’t get accepted, because although you think the story matches thematically, an editor has a tight brief in mind and that is why your piece didn’t make the cut. But rejection is rejection, and you love the words you write, so it can be hard to feel good about yourself if you continue to not make the cut (even though your story was one out of three thousand submitted, received, read, weighed, considered, and rejected).
See where I’m going with this?
So, a fun fact about me (and I’m not setting myself up as any sort of ideal or writerly expert, but again, this is my blog so I’m allowed to talk about my own shit where it is relevant), I try not to submit things. Its true! I’ve been doing this since 2018. In that time, I’ve been invited to write stories for charity anthologies directly, which I have gladly done. I submitted one piece, and one piece alone, to an open call last year that really sung to me. I was invited to three anthologies this year, one of which I then pulled out of.
And that’s it.
Well, honestly, it’s because I’m a delicate flower, innit. I get fatigued easily, and I hate rejection because I’m an idiot who needs to work on her ego a bit, but that’s for another time. Mostly I don’t submit because it’s so overwhelming to me: the number of calls, the frenzy surrounding it, the chatter about this story or that call and so on…I find it a bit much, so I…don’t.
But what about getting your stuff read?
Well, I guess I was a bit narrow-minded in my approach: I never really got onto the submissions carousel to start with (largely because I was very new to the indie horror community in 2018 and didn’t know much about any of this stuff going on at all). Instead, I wrote stories for podcasts (which I will admit- I submitted my first ever published story to, on a whim, and it was accepted thank god, or I wouldn’t be here). Once I had a handful of these stories, I realised I had enough material to self-publish my first collection, and I put my energy into building my own audience and readership from the ground up, which I feel like I’ve had some success with, thankfully. I preferred to put the effort into curating my own stories into my own publication, where I could write what I wanted, to my own brief, and it worked well for me: I didn’t have to endure the crushing sting of rejection after rejection (bad reviews notwithstanding) and I also had extra material to send over to the podcasts I had begun to build good relationships with. Not every story got accepted, but that was fine- it all went into a book eventually anyway, one that I controlled, so nothing felt wasted.
So how does this translate into useful ‘advice’? I hate that word but I don’t think I can avoid it much longer, so here goes:
- If you’re experiencing Submission Burnout, get off the Carousel for a while. No matter how exciting that open call for stories, just stop for a bit. Rest. Do something else. Write something purely for you, rather than to a brief. Or maybe don’t write at all. Maybe do something fun, instead. Have a breather. Rejuvenate a little. It’ll help a lot.
- If you do want to get back on the wooden horse, PRIORITISE. Seen an exciting call but it ends next week? Maybe consider sitting this one out- what’s the point in rushing it? Especially when there are so many other calls out there. Also consider prioritising submissions by the themes that are closest to your heart, and also maybe by doing a little due diligence on the publisher themselves- are their values as a business and the people associated with it aligned to yours? That can be important to consider, particularly at the moment.
- Consider self-publishing. Who cares if the story got rejected, honestly? Maybe it needs some work, maybe it doesn’t. Just because one particular editor doesn’t like your stuff, or didn’t think it worked entirely with what they had in mind, doesn’t mean there isn’t a whole world of people out there who might enjoy the hell out of your story, so why wait? Self-publishing is accessible, valid, worthwhile, and can be hella rewarding- why waste all your efforts, get out there! Go on, git!
So yeah, those are my thoughts. I hope they’re helpful, I see lots of good writers going through the Burnout and I understand it, I really do. It’s addictive, this writing and getting published thing. It’s a trip, and I love it.
But it might also be time to consider doing it more on your terms, than on someone else’s’ all the time. That Carousel aint going anywhere, anyway. You can always climb back on a bit later, once you stop feeling dizzy.